I have to admit, the idea of reinventing myself has, at times, been something I’ve flirted with. Even if ever so briefly. Perhaps you have too. And why not? After all, reinvention carries with it an implied sense of renewal, reinvigoration, rejuvenation, and …well… rebirth! It can be an attractive idea, especially when we crave a better quality of life. Let’s face it, reinvention is appealing, and it does sell books. And if, like me, you’re a fan of personal development, it’s easy to believe you can stake your claim to happiness on creating a new release of you.
It’s Not About Human Potential
On some level, I think my initial attraction to self-reinvention emerged from my long-time fascination with personal development. In fact, as a psychology major in the 1960s, I was absolutely enthralled by the human potential movement, which was rooted in the theories of many influential thinkers, therapists, and personal development gurus. As well, I was influenced by humanistic psychology, which promised creative, fulfilling, happy lives via something called self-actualization.
Yet, what’s clear to me, now, is this: It’s a mistake to equate self-reinvention with human potential or personal development. [Tweet This]
It’s Not Authentic
While it may be possible to reinvent your approaches to life’s challenges, I don’t believe you can truly reinvent your self. Knowing your self involves insights and takes place over time. By contrast, self-reinvention can be more immediate, but is actually a subtle form of self-deception. If you go down this path, I believe you are side stepping self-acceptance in favor of creating an image. So the process can be one of wordsmithing, selecting a set of affectations, and crafting a “look” or style to arrive at the new you.
On some level, there even seems to be a certain “cool” factor. The process and outcomes seem to convey the kind of cachet that is usually attached to disruptive technologies, innovation, and transformation. Yet it’s not really any of these. Nor is it a brave or bold act. Rather, self-reinvention is a contrivance designed to make people feel better about how they look, not only in the eyes of others but also in their own eyes.
Self-reinvention is not about authenticity. It’s about wearing a mask. [Tweet This]
Identity As Commodity
As I bet you realize, self-reinvention is a popular cultural concept. So, I know I’m going against the grain. Still, it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. Mike Bulajewski has written about this in a thought-provoking essay, “Technological Determinism & the Myth of Self-Reinvention.” In it, he examines the deeper, if philosophical, implications, seeing self-reinvention as tied to the “…rise of consumerism … [and] …the American Dream …[is]… reimagined as the endless production and reproduction of self-identity through consumer products.”
Drawing on a paper by Ken Hillis, he goes on to point out the relationship between self-reinvention and technology, noting:
“It’s strange and fascinating to think that technological determinism might have a strong connection to the ideal of self-reinvention. Hillis understands identity as on the consumer side, like a commodity which can become outmoded. But modeling identity as technology puts a different, complementary spin on it. Identity innovation becomes an economically exploitable activity just like technology.”
The Key Risk
For me, the central risk of self-reinvention is its discontinuity. It’s not a process of self-discovery and personal growth. It does not uncover one’s story and the central themes that drive personal meaning and fulfillment. Rather, it’s externally oriented and prompts recreating identity as a response to changing conditions.
Put more simply: Self-reinvention is fooling yourself about fooling others. [Tweet This]
In the long run, it won’t support lasting success in your career and life, or a better quality of life. For that, you really need to work at knowing and being who you truly are.
What’s your view on self-reinvention? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment and let me know.